SEO without research is meaningless.

You can have a beautiful web site for the most perfect product ever invented, but it means nothing if no one knows about it. That’s exactly why Search Engine Optimization is so important. Unfortunately, the process of optimizing your web site for search engines is complicated and neverending. There are no hard and fast rules for it, and anyone who claims to be an expert is either lying or has learned effective practices through a great deal of trial and error.

This is exactly why so many companies have resorted to outsourcing their search engine optimization processes. In the eyes of many execs, it’s just easier to pay someone else to do it than to learn the ins and outs of a process that only the folks who wrote the search engines truly know how to manipulate.

Still, it pays to know something about SEO, and there are lots of resources to help you learn. Google, the biggest of the Big 3 (see also: Bing and Yahoo) has actually published Webmaster Guidelines as part of its Webmaster Tools to help site owners make their sites as Google-friendly as possible. This document covers the technical aspects, design and content of a site, and how those aspects lead the search engine spiders to deem a site high-quality or low-quality.

If you want to learn SEO, you first need to learn the language. Search engine optimization is indeed a language of its own, full of acronyms like CPM and CTR and ORM and MVT. Anvil Media has a handy glossary written upover here. It’s a lot, but knowing those terms will give you a better grasp of the information your web analytics tools dig up when you buckle down to do some research about your site’s numbers.

After all, that’s what all of this is about: numbers. How much traffic is your site getting? How much time do visitors spend on the site? What pages are people arriving at? What pages do they leave from? How many visitors come back? And, most importantly, how many visitors are buying your product, or contacting you to do business?

Any web analytics tool can give you those numbers, but, if you don’t understand them, you won’t have any idea how to make them better. You won’t know which elements of your site to perform multivariate testing on, and you won’t realize until it’s much too late that the reason you’re not getting more sales is because your site’s shopping cart is disorganized and confusing.

Making your web site better—making it easy for robots to read so that people can find your site more easily, tracking the data so you can identify problem areas, experimenting with solutions so you can find the best fit—is an endless process, one that requires hard work and creativity and a willingness to keep trying new things. That said, it’s also not totally optional, certainly not for businesses. I’ve seen firsthand how quickly a site—and an entire company—can die when one part of that process is neglected. Unless your company is a household name that generates lots of direct traffic, you probably rely quite heavily on search engines for traffic and customers. One of the best things you can do for your company is learn how search engines work and how your site can better accommodate them.

In class on Wednesday night, I’ll be talking about search engine optimization, how it works, and how to apply it to your site. I’d love to know ahead of time: how comfortable are you with SEO? Do you have any experience with it? Is there anything about SEO that you really want to talk about? I’ll also be talking about web analytics in the following class, so we’ll talk about gathering data about your site then.

I’d also love to know: if you’re already familiar with SEO, or if you’ve been reading up, what are some of your favorite tips and tricks? Is there a resource that’s been particularly helpful to you in learning how to do it?

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